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An Exceptional Moment: Christian Education in Indonesia

Covenant faculty and alumni in Indonesia

by Grace Mullaney Humbles ’13


In the country with the highest Muslim population in the world sits Yayasan Pendidikan Pelita Harapan (YPPH), a charitable foundation seeking to proclaim the preeminence of Jesus Christ through Christian education initiatives in Indonesia. Founded and funded by international businessman James Riady and his family, the foundation provides Christian education to students from elementary through graduate school.


With a mission aimed at proclaiming Christ’s preeminence, it’s easy to see how the vision for global Christian education in Indonesia has captured the interest of Covenant College and the hearts and imaginations of many Covenant alumni.


In 2012, YPPH began working to establish an International Teachers College (ITC) at the already established Universitas Pelita Harapan (UPH), just thirty minutes outside of Jakarta, Indonesia. A Covenant task force was appointed to explore how a residential liberal arts college in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, could best partner with and support the work of Christian education in Indonesia.


Initially, the committee considered the idea of opening ITC as a branch campus of Covenant. After further deliberation, the Covenant College Indonesia Task Force determined that exchange programs, faculty assistance, and other informal partnerships would allow more flexible opportunities for collaboration. Covenant alumnus and faculty member Dr. Jim Drexler ’79 moved to Indonesia, on loan from Covenant, to serve as the president of the new teachers college, bringing a Covenant perspective to their programs.


Alongside various institutional collaborations with ITC at UPH, several Covenant College alumni are pouring their lives into the work God is doing through the educational initiatives of YPPH in Indonesia—both at ITC and beyond.


Covenant Alumni at ITC

ITC opened its doors in August 2014, offering students from five countries an American-accredited joint degree from UPH and Corban University in the U.S. The college welcomed thirty-three students during its inaugural year, from Nepal, the Philippines, Cambodia, the United States, and Indonesia.


Jim and Sara Drexler ’78 have been serving at ITC in Indonesia for a year and a half—doing a variety of administrative work necessary for the young college to function, including admissions, recruiting, fundraising, and establishing networks. All this was done while Jim worked to hire faculty and build community among the faculty, staff, and students. During the college’s first semester, he also taught education classes at ITC.


 “We are offering teacher training for people who want to be elementary and secondary Christian school teachers in various countries,” says Jim. “We do everything in English and students will graduate with bachelor’s degrees, from both UPH and Corban University, so that they gain the American accreditation and their international Christian teacher certification under the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI).”


In January 2015, Dr. Jeff Hall, vice president of academic affairs at Covenant, traveled to Indonesia to teach a condensed educational psychology course at ITC.


“The community of educators and the work being accomplished at the International Teachers College represent a true kingdom enterprise,” says Hall. “I was humbled by the opportunity to participate in and contribute to that work. Those who serve the ITC love the students and have a vision for how a work of modest size can have significant influence in God’s economy.”


Covenant professors will travel with Covenant students to ITC for May term classes this summer, and Covenant is exploring the possibility of exchange programs for both professors and students.


It is no accident that ITC has opened its doors at this point in history. Jim and Sara both see the timing of the new college’s arrival as a gift.


“It is a unique time in history for Asia,” says Jim. “First, because of the economic growth that’s taking place. As economies grow, middle classes grow, and the demand for education grows. Second, many countries are enjoying more political freedoms. Finally, the numerical growth within the church in Asia is unprecedented since the time of Christ. Many people, after coming to Christ, start thinking about Christian schooling for their children.”


The significance of a Christian education is not lost on Christians in Asia. Jim points out that there is an exceptional sense of enthusiasm for Christian education in Asia that isn’t easily found in the United States. At the same time, there is an increasing and desperate need for Christian teachers to serve in Christian schools to fill the growing demand for thoughtful, biblical, Christian education.


“A friend recently said that ninety percent of the world’s people live outside the United States, but ninety percent of the world’s educational resources are inside the United States,” says Sara. “When I heard that, I thought, ‘let me have the privilege of being out and about and helpful.’ It’s such a great opportunity to be part of this.”


Students at ITC feel that same sense of privilege at the chance to earn a degree from a Christian institution. One of those students, Phalla, came to ITC from a poor village in Cambodia, where there is now one school with five classes that stop after fifth grade. When Cambodia was devastated by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, the vast majority of professionals, including educators and clergy, were killed. During a discussion in class about why ITC students wanted to be teachers, Phalla raised her hand and talked about the impact of so many people being slaughtered in her country. She said, “They’ve killed all the clever [educated] people, and God is calling me to be one of those replacement teachers in my country—to replace one of those who was executed.”


These are the kinds of students God has brought to ITC—students who hope to bring the love of Christ and a quality education back to their villages and communities.


“We have students from Nepal, another relatively poor country,” says Jim. “The Badi people are considered one of the lowest castes in the country. One of our students is Badi and as far as we know he is the first Badi who has ever gone to college. He is studying to be an elementary school teacher and wants to go back to teach in his home community.”


Jim and Sara are not the only alumni serving at ITC. Adam Porcella ’07, former resident director at Covenant College, serves as the director of residence life at ITC. Adam notes that although the context, institution, country, and students are vastly different from what he experienced at Covenant, he is still serving the same kingdom, same gospel, and same God.


“God seems to find great pleasure in using the weak things of this world to accomplish His good works,” says Adam. “Right now it is difficult for me to see how God could possibly use such a fledgling institution in the crucible of its formation to build His kingdom, which makes me all the more confident that He has big plans for ITC. God’s imagination is infinitely greater than my own.”


Alumni at the School of Light & Hope

While Sara, Jim, and Adam work to further Christian education at ITC, five other Covenant alumni serve as teachers at Sekolah Pelita Harapan (School of Light & Hope). Emma English ’13, Katie Glass ’14, Da Som Jung ’12, Rebekah Schmidt ’10, and Melanie Terpstra ’14 all teach in various schools of SPH.


Melanie is the fifth grade teacher in a smaller school in SPH, about an hour from Jakarta. She teaches English and unit of inquiry to fifth graders, along with sixth grade English and afterschool photography for third through sixth graders.


“God is at work in my classroom, and in SPH,” says Melanie. “Many of my students are not Christian, which means I’m representing Christ to them every day. It is quite a responsibility and a privilege. I hope to be the type of teacher they will feel comfortable coming to talk to about God, or anything else, if the Spirit works in their hearts.”


Melanie notes that one of the most exciting parts of what is happening at her school is that the tuition money brought in is invested in giving lower income children the opportunity to receive an education and to learn about God.


Emma teaches third grade and enjoys hearing students reflect on what they’ve been learning—especially when they share what they’ve been learning in chapel.


“It is encouraging to know that the students that I teach will probably grow up to be very influential people in Indonesia and to think that I can get them excited about Jesus is such a blessing,” says Emma.


In the midst of a country where eighty-seven percent of the population is Muslim, there is an exceptional opportunity for Christians to bring the light and hope of the gospel to young men and women through Christian education. As Indonesian brothers and sisters in Christ work to offer this kind of education in Asia, Covenant alumni are privileged to work alongside them, seeking and proclaiming Christ’s preeminence over all of creation—from Lookout Mountain to Indonesia.